Daylight raid on Aircraft Works kills 53

The siren went off and immediately, before it had stopped, the bombs were dropping. It was a single aircraft. Some bombs dropped on the factory, but some dropped on a gunnery school which probably tested the gun turrets, a number of them were killed during the air-raid. In that first raid a number of factory workers were killed.The German aircraft came in so low that you could see the pilot…

The bombs from just one aircraft killed 53 people at the Parnall Aircraft Works at Yate near Bristol.

The Parnall Aircraft Works at Yate, Bristol, were hit on the 27th February and considerable damage was done to buildings. Full production will be restored in about a month’s time.

From the Home Security Situation report for the week.

Dorothy Wall was with her parents who ran the Railway Hotel, where many workers from Parnall’s had just finished their lunch break:

We had just closed, it must have been about 2 o’clock. The siren went off and immediately, before it had stopped, the bombs were dropping. It was a single aircraft. Some bombs dropped on the factory, but some dropped on a gunnery school which probably tested the gun turrets, a number of them were killed during the air-raid. In that first raid a number of factory workers were killed.The German aircraft came in so low that you could see the pilot, a large part of the factory was very badly damaged so they evacuated some departments and then scattered them where they could.

Her full account is at BBC People’s War.

For much more on Parnall’s see Flickr.

Where will the invasion come?

From the point of view of civilian efficiency and morale there are grave objections to evacuation. It means in the first place complete temporary ruin for large numbers of people In the second place it means dumping upon an already overcrowded district additional numbers of idle and disgruntled strangers. Reluctant hosts are condemned to entertain unwilling guests for an indefinite periods A better seed ground for the growth of rumour, warweariness and defeatism could hardly be imagined.

An invasion was widely expected sometime in 1941- The King inspects a coastal gun battery ‘somewhere in Britain’.
A squad of Home Guards prepare to deal with an invader by means of Molotov cocktails during training in the Dover and Folkestone area.
A squad of Home Guards prepare to deal with an invader by means of Molotov cocktails during training in the Dover and Folkestone area.

In a memorandum to the War Cabinet the Minister of Information raises the question of whether it is necessary to evacuate more towns on the south coast of Britain, as proposed by the War Office:

From the point of view of civilian efficiency and morale there are grave objections to evacuation. It means in the first place complete temporary ruin for large numbers of people In the second place it means dumping upon an already overcrowded district additional numbers of idle and disgruntled strangers. Reluctant hosts are condemned to entertain unwilling guests for an indefinite periods A better seed ground for the growth of rumour, warweariness and defeatism could hardly be imagined.

The South East coast has always been the obvious place for an invading force to land, and for this very reason intelligent invaders have always avoided it. William of Orange landed at Torbay, Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven, Edward IV landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire.

To each one of these astute and successful invaders London was of almost as great importance as it is today and. the distances that divided their various ports of disembarkation from London were greater than they are today because their armies moved more slowly. But relying upon the enormous military value of surprise, they rightly struck where they were least expected.

Is it impossible that the Germans will do likewise? And granting the possibility, is it wise to inflict unnecessary suffering on the civilian population on the assumption that the blow is almost bound to fall within a limited area? Surely what matters most to Germany is to get a large army established on the soil of Britain. The number of miles that divides that army from the capital is a secondary consideration.

See TNA CAB/66/15/16

Troops of the 1st Polish Corps manning an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland, 4 February 1941. The train was armed with a 6 pounder gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren machine guns.
Troops of the 1st Polish Corps manning an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland, 4 February 1941. The train was armed with a 6 pounder gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren machine guns.
A Home Guard section on patrol along the shores of Loch Stack in the Highlands of Scotland, 14 February 1941
A Home Guard section on patrol along the shores of Loch Stack in the Highlands of Scotland, 14 February 1941
Dutch soldiers take part in a bayonet charge in a snow-covered field as part of their training, somewhere in England, 1941.
Dutch soldiers take part in a bayonet charge in a snow-covered field as part of their training, somewhere in England, 1941.

Dogfight over Malta

I saw one straggling about half a mile behind the rest, so left the Squadron and attacked it from the stern. I could not get an underneath deflection shot, as he was too low, only at 500 ft. I had given him three seconds burst, when he opened up at me. He was a very good shot. His tracers were going well around me. It was lucky I was not shot. I broke away sharply to right about 1½ seconds of his fire and did not see him burst into flames, and go into the sea. But the A.A. people did, so that’s my second since coming here.

An anti aircraft position overlooking the Grand Harbour at Malta, pictured later in the war.

Squadron Leader Charles Derek Whittingham had been shot down and wounded during the Battle of Britain. He was now leading No 216 Squadron in the defence of Malta. Now that the Luftwaffe were operating in the Mediterranean this was developing into a very fierce battle.

Feb 25th
Red letter day.
Squadron sighted four bandits, enemy bombers, stooging around over Tilfa everyone went arse for leather at them. I saw one straggling about half a mile behind the rest, so left the Squadron and attacked it from the stern. I could not get an underneath deflection shot, as he was too low, only at 500 ft. I had given him three seconds burst, when he opened up at me. He was a very good shot. His tracers were going well around me. It was lucky I was not shot. I broke away sharply to right about 1½ seconds of his fire and did not see him burst into flames, and go into the sea. But the A.A. people did, so that’s my second since coming here. HH got another so did John B. All the flight fired their guns.

We celebrated this with a bottle of beer, but had hardly finished it, when we went on another flap.

Jock led and took us up to 26,000 feet. On the way down I noticed a plane on fire. I notified control. Jock heard me and circled round. He saw the bloke land in the sea. Fortunately, very near a ship. This picked Jock Watch up. So we flew home and pancaked. Watch had broken his leg in seven places, his arm in three. At the time of writing he is very dangerously ill. Seems to have lost the will to live, and will probably die.

To Rabat that night where the congratulations from Patsy and people were very heartening.

Read his whole diary on BBC People’s War.

Malta.
German aircraft approached the Island every day, and two, or possibly three, reconnaissance aircraft were shot down, but no attack developed until the 26th, when a force of about twelve long-range bombers and thirty dive-bombers, escorted by 20-30 fighters, attacked Luqa aerodrome, destroying six of outbombers and damaging eleven others. The aerodrome is likely to be unserviceable for some days. Seven dive-bombers were destroyed, two by fighters, and eleven others were probable casualties. Three Hurricanes were shot down.

From the Air Situation Report for the week.

Bombing of Brest continues

After three consecutive attacks on a lighter scale, over 60 aircraft bombed the docks at Brest on the 24th/25th, and though intense A.A. and searchlight activity hindered accurate observation, many bombs were seen to fall in the dock area and tb straddle the estimated position of the Hipper class cruiser.

Tracer from German anti-aircraft gun fire (flak) vividly depicted in a vertical aerial photograph taken over the Port Militaire, Brest, France, during a night raid, possibly that of 4/5 January 1941.
Tracer from German anti-aircraft gun fire (flak) vividly depicted in a vertical aerial photograph taken over the Port Militaire, Brest, France, during a night raid, possibly that of 4/5 January 1941.

The French port of Brest was now one of the most heavily bombed towns in the whole of Europe, it was one of the top targets for both Bomber Command and Coastal Command, and the subject of routinephotographic reconnaissance. The dry dock was being used by the Germans for the repair of its capital ships, and there was a Hipper class cruiser in dock. As a consequence Brest was also becoming a well defended town, with a ring of Anti Aircraft batteries surrounding it. They would claim many British aircrew.

The twin engined Avro Manchester bomber was not a success, the Vulture engines were unreliable. However its development led directly to the four engined Lancaster with Merlin engines.

Night bombing operations were undertaken on six nights. After three consecutive attacks on a lighter scale, over 60 aircraft bombed the docks at Brest on the 24th/25th, and though intense A.A. and searchlight activity hindered accurate observation, many bombs were seen to fall in the dock area and to straddle the estimated position of the Hipper class cruiser.

Equally heavy attacks were made on the following nights on the industrial centres of Dusseldorf and Cologne. On the latter, 77 tons of H.E. and 16,500 incendiaries were dropped. Our new Manchester bombers took part in these raids for the first time. Earlier in the week, 24 Wellingtons started many large fires in the dock and industrial areas of Wilhelmshaven. Harassing attacks both by bombers and fighters have been made on more than 25 enemy aerodromes, and several night bombers were attacked and severely damaged if not destroyed. Boulogne, Calais and other Channel ports have also been attacked and extensive damage done to the dock ell16cLS.

Leaflet raids over France, Holland and Germany have continued, and during the week over one and a quarter million leaflets have been released from free balloons.

From the Air Situation Report for the week.

Roundup of Jews in Amsterdam

A massive round up, the first of its kind in Holland, was held at the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein and the surrounding streets. 600 men of the Orpo [the German Order Police], armed with machine guns, humiliated Jews and beat them up. Eventually 389 men were arrested, transported to the police camp (Internierungslager) in Schoorl,

Amsterdam, Holland, Jews who were captured during the first round-up on 22-23/02/1941.RIOD – Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, Amsterdam

On the 22nd and 23rd February 1941 the Nazi’s launched the first mass round-up of Jews in Holland. This was in response to a brief period of organised resistance, when the residents in the Jodenhoek or Jewish Corner of Amsterdam fought back against harassment by the military wing of the Dutch Nazi Party, the ‘Weer Afdeling’ or WA.

A massive round up, the first of its kind in Holland, was held at the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein and the surrounding streets. 600 men of the Orpo [the German Order Police], armed with machine guns, humiliated Jews and beat them up. Eventually 389 men were arrested, transported to the police camp (Internierungslager) in Schoorl, 50 km north of Amsterdam, and a few days later were sent from there to KZ Buchenwald, where many of them died. After 4 months the survivors were deported from Buchenwald to KZ Mauthausen. There all but one of them died from torture and exhaustion.

See Deathcamps.org

Research published in 2021 has unearthed evidence that the Jews detained in Holland in February 1941 were killed in an experimental gas chamber in Hartheim Castle, the precursor to much larger facilities at Auschwitz and elsewhere. See BBC report on the research of Dr W. de Lang.

For much more on the Holocaust in Holland see The Persecution of Jews in Photographs.

German troops in North Africa?

Another recent report from a source of unknown reliability states that two German armoured divisions have disembarked at Tripoli. Although this has not yet been,confirmed, it is quite probable that the Germans have sent some armoured troops to the Sirte area, where German aerodromes are situated, as a precaution against a further rapid advance of British forces.es are situated, as a precaution against a further rapid advance of British forces.

German Panzers in Italy, en route to North Africa.

British Military Intelligence was still struggling to understand German intentions in North Africa. They still did not know that Rommel had arrived in Tripoli, even as British forces were being withdrawn for transfer to Greece:

Possible German Troops in Libya.

For some time there have been persistent but unconfirmed reports of the presence of a German armoured division in the Naples area and in Sicily. It has been stated that these troops were destined for Libya. It is now reliably reported that on the 22nd February armoured cars with crews wearing light blue uniform were seen near El Ageila. The uniform suggests the German Air Force, although it does not normally have armoured car units. The same reliable source confirms the presence of German advanced troops in the Sirte area.

On the 26th February, 1941, an official Italian communique, broadcast from Rome, stated that on the 24th February formations of the German contingent in Africa made contact for the first time with British armoured detachments South-East of Agedabia (100 miles South of Benghazi).

Another recent report from a source of unknown reliability states that two German armoured divisions have disembarked at Tripoli. Although this has not yet been,confirmed, it is quite probable that the Germans have sent some armoured troops to the Sirte area, where German aerodromes are situated, as a precaution against a further rapid advance of British forces.

From the Military Situation Report for the week ending 27th February 1941.

Aerial photograph taken from a German Fieseler Storch reconnaissance aircraft. German section outpost in the desert.
Abandoned Italian Autocarro ‘dovinque 35’ Spa lorry.

Surviving shellfire in the Battle for Keren

We were deployed in a very sandy area which in a way was to our advantage, as despite the frequent shelling we underwent by enemy artillery, the shrapnel was smothered by the sandy soil which saved casualties and on one occasion saved my life. We ate and slept within 10 metres of the gun, which was essential in action, and on this occasion we were awakened at first light with a request for defensive fire on a pre – selected target.

The view from an RAF bomber as the mountainous terrain outside the town of Keren is attacked.

James Barthorpe was a driver with an artillery unit during the war to retake Eritrea and Abyssinia from the Italians. It was a remote and often forgotten war, but the Battle for Keren involved some very fierce fighting in harsh terrain. On this occasion the terrain worked to his advantage:

We were deployed in a very sandy area which in a way was to our advantage, as despite the frequent shelling we underwent by enemy artillery, the shrapnel was smothered by the sandy soil which saved casualties and on one occasion saved my life. We ate and slept within 10 metres of the gun, which was essential in action, and on this occasion we were awakened at first light with a request for defensive fire on a pre – selected target. We started firing at the usual rate of 1 round per minute. This was very soon increased to 2 per minute and then almost immediatly to the emergency call of gunfire (as fast as you can).

This applied to all our 4 guns in the troop. After about 2 hrs firing No 3 gun on our left (we were No 2) ceased firing, and as there had been no order and we had been shelled during this operation, our No 1 enquired the reason. It appeared the recoil system on the gun had leaked oil, rendering the gun unserviceable. As we were running low on ammunition the Sgt. on No 2 gun suggested that we send over some men to fetch some of his.

I was sent with 3 other me to fetch some. ( I must mention here that although I was a driver, when we were in action in a static position, I assisted on the guns.) We did several trips to No 2 and back, carrying either a box of 4 shells or one of 8 cartridge cases. As I started back on my last trip carrying a box of 8 cartridge cases, the enemy started shelling our position. I was about half way back so to turn back was as dangerous and going on, so I just kept going.

I was walking through a particular sandy patch over a low dune when a shell landed literally no more than 2 metres from my feet but at the foot of the dune. This probably saved my life as I was covered in sand and bits of grass and swearing at the enemy gunners, but unhurt by shrapnel. I was told afterwards that when my friends saw me disappear into a cloud of sand they called me to see if I was alright, but once they heard me swearing they knew I was untouched – thanks to the sand !

The exact date for this action is not recorded, see the Memoirs of Alec James Barthorpe –

It may be possible to access this from the

<a href=”https://archive.org” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>internet archive</a>

try searching for:

http://www.memoriesofwar.com/veterans/barthorpe.asp

More heavy bombing of Swansea

On each night the concentration of bombing was on the centre of the town and adjacent working-class districts. The result was extensive damage to business premises and private houses, but comparatively little to industry. The most serious effect on production was caused by the dislocation of utility services, all of which were affected.

The ancient centre of Swansea was lost. The 12th century Church of St Mary was gutted and the medieval tomb of Sir Matthew Craddock damaged beyond repair.

I remember vividly the yellowy full moon over what is today the Penlan area, undeveloped then; large flares floating over the Fforestfach area a garden of twinkling incendiary bombs. Behind these I could discern a back cloth of reddish haze as buildings began to blaze.

See Gordon Denis’s full account on BBC People’s War..

“…too scared to go to bed. In the flicks [cinema] when it started…Water and gas off. I feel shaken and worn out for lack of sleep.”

See Nora Sandin’s Diary at People at War which has other images of the Swansea Blitz.

Swansea.
On each night the concentration of bombing was on the centre of the town and adjacent working-class districts. The result was extensive damage to business premises and private houses, but comparatively little to industry. The most serious effect on production was caused by the dislocation of utility services, all of which were affected.

The railways were seriously disorganised. Traffic on the main G.W.R. line was suspended, High Street Station was closed and the L.M.S. line was blocked at Mumbles Road. The situation was eased by diversion and the use of buses. Only four key points were hit; in all cases damage was slight, except in the docks where a shed containing degaussing equipment was destroyed by fire.

Casualties.

For the week ending 0600 hours, the 26th February, casualties are estimated to have been 284 people killed and 433 injured, of which 200 were killed and 254 injured at Swansea.

From the Home Security Situation Report for the week ending 27th February 1941, see TNA CAB 66/15/19

See also BBC People’s War for bomb in Shepherds Bush.

Bombing of London resumes

Damage was slight, and no factory has reported a loss of production greater than four days. The chief cause of such loss was the interruption of night work through damage to roofs and windows. The key points affected were three in the London docks, thirteen factories, a gas works and the Royal Arsenal. A large number of incendiary bombs were dropped and many fires were started.

Some of London’s Railway arches had now been adopted as public air raid shelters. With the basic provision of beds and toilets, they were more comfortable than many other air raid shelters.
But very few shelters were safe from a direct hit.

Damage. London.

Eighteen key points were hit in London during raids on the nights of the 17th/18th and 19th/20th, each lasting for some four hours. Damage was slight, and no factory has reported a loss of production greater than four days. The chief cause of such loss was the interruption of night work through damage to roofs and windows. The key points affected were three in the London docks, thirteen factories, a gas works and the Royal Arsenal. A large number of incendiary bombs were dropped and many fires were started, all of which were quickly extinguished.

On the 17th/18th an archway shelter at London Bridge Station was hit. Rescue work is still in progress and final casualty figures may amount to some 90 persons killed.

Casualties.

For the week ending 0600, 19th February, the estimated casualties are 231 people killed and 495 injured.

From the Home Security Situation Report for the week ending 19th February 1941.

It is now thought that 68 people died and 175 people were injured in the Stainer Street archway bomb on the 17th. It seems that not all the bodies were recovered. A Blue Memorial Plaque has now been placed at the site, see BBC local news.

A female shelterer sleeps under a pile of blankets in the air raid shelter under the railway arches, somewhere in South East London. This part of the shelter looks more like a proper room than a section of space under a railway arch, partly because of the vase of flowers which has been added to brighten up the area. In the background, however, the gentleman’s lavatories can be seen, reminding us that this is a communal shelter.
Nine members of the eleven-strong O’Rourke family of St James’s Road, Bermondsey, sleep under a blanket in an air raid shelter under the railway arches, probably at Dockley Road, Bermondsey in November 1940. St James’s Road joins onto Dockley Road at right angles, so the shelter is very close to the family home. November 1940.

The Swansea Blitz

I called up to him to ask where she was. He pointed down to the rubble and said “down there, under that lot”. We started to pull away the bricks and shattered wood with our bare hand and soon the rescue unit came and we then stood back for them to dig. After about an hour we found her under a very strong table, not a mark on her, and her first words were “Is my husband alive!?”

Another official image of people stoically getting on with it after being made homeless.

Elaine Griffiths was a 17 year old girl working as a volunteer with the Civil Defence organisation in Swansea. She remembers one particular incident from the night:

On the night of the 18th February 1941, an Amber alert came over the telephone at our post and we all scattered over our area to open up the shelters and stand at arranged points. At dusk, about tea time, several planes flew over but crossed over the bay and dropped a load of bombs on the Llandarcy Oil Works. The fire was very bright and, on the way back, a bomb was dropped by the German Pilot in our sector. Just one bomb, probably to get rid of it before flying across the Bristol Channel, and to their air fields in France.

The bomb took the whole front of a building in Adelaide Street and when the smoke had cleared away, we could see a man standing on about twelve inches of floor against the back room of the house. He stood near a door with his arms against the wall. We called to him to stay where he was; I thought that was a laughable thing to say, as where was he going?!!!When one is seventeen, one sees life as quite funny!! Although I still do!!

Anyway, I knew his wife should have been with him and I called up to him to ask where she was. He pointed down to the rubble and said “down there, under that lot”. We started to pull away the bricks and shattered wood with our bare hand and soon the rescue unit came and we then stood back for them to dig. After about an hour we found her under a very strong table, not a mark on her, and her first words were “Is my husband alive!?” He had been brought down from the bedroom or what was left of it, and they just hugged one another.

They had not a piece of furniture or clothing of any sort, except a small case with their “papers” in, that being comprised of, birth certificates and policies, insurances, etc. Everyone in those days took their bags or cases to the shelter. They went off to stay with relatives and we never saw them again. But they were just pleased and grateful, that they had each other and were alive.

Read her full account on BBC Peoples War.